Let’s be clear. Yes, your apps are tracking you. Your private information is a juicy revenue stream that app makers can’t seem to resist. Who wants to know where you’ve been, what stores you’ve visited, and the path you walked through those stores? Advertisers. All that information about you is used by advertisers to serve up just the right ad in hopes you’ll click and make a purchase.
Recently, The New York Times published a story that showed just how easy it is to identify and locate people through anonymized data that’s almost constantly being collected by apps on our phones. While the information provided by the applications doesn’t always identify the user, the location tracking is often so precise that it can be used to pinpoint an individual, since it shows where the person is at night (presumably at home) and where they go throughout the day. The Times says many apps use or sell this information to help target ads and for other purposes.
The Department of Homeland Security has bought access to a commercial database that maps the movements of millions of cellphones in America and is using it for immigration and border enforcement, according to people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The location data is drawn from ordinary cellphone apps, including those for games, weather and e-commerce, for which the user has granted permission to log the phone’s location.
HOW DO YOU STOP THIS ON YOUR PHONE?
In recent years, Apple and Google have made it easier to identify the applications that have access to your information, and to turn off the ability for those apps to see where you are. Sometimes this can stop an app from performing correctly: a mapping application would need to know your location to provide you with accurate directions somewhere, for example. But others, like weather apps, don’t necessarily need to know where you are at all times. You can always just search for your current location.
The iPhone also has controls that allow apps to use your location only when you’re using them, instead of all of the time.
We recently went through our iPhones and were surprised to see that we had a few applications that were set to always track my location, instead of as needed. In this guide I’ll show you how to take more control of the apps that know where you are, and how to turn off those that never should require your location at all.
How to stop apps from tracking you on your iPhone
Turn off apps that are tracking you on iPhone.
- Open Settings.
- Tap “Privacy.”
- Select “Location Services.”
- If you want to completely stop all apps from using your location, turn Location Services off.
- If you want to manage settings app by app, tap each app and choose “Never” or “While Using.” Make sure apps that don’t need your location, like most games, are set to “Never.” Other apps should be set to track your location only while you’re using them. There’s no reason an app needs to track you all the time.
We were surprised to see we had about 3-7 apps that were always using our locationl. They were all applications that need to know where we are when we’re using them, like Uber and Google Maps, but there’s no need for them to know where we are even when the app is closed. We changed the permissions over to “While Using.”
For others, like weather, we switched the permissions from “Always” to “Never,” since I can always manually search for the weather and don’t need my phone to know where I am.
How to stop apps from tracking you on your Android phone
Android phone makers often have custom menus, so the process for doing this might be different on a Google Pixel versus an Android phone made by Samsung or LG. But, it should be relatively similar across devices running Android P, the latest version of Android. Here’s how to stop apps from tracking you on Android:
- Open Settings
- Tap “Advanced.”
- Choose “App permissions.”
- Select “Location.”
- You’ll see a list of apps that have access to your location.
- Turn off the apps that you don’t think need to know where you are.
We didn’t find any suspicious apps trying to track me on Android, but we’re usually diligent about what we allow and what we don’t. The apps that had my permission for location included OpenTable, which shows nearby restaurants with reservation availability, and others that need to know where we are, like Uber and Lyft. Unlike the iPhone, Android only lets you turn permission on and off, instead of only while using the app.
Reminder: Some apps need your location to work properly
Some apps do need to know your location in order to function properly, and it’s not always obvious which apps these are.
For instance, if you use DraftKings to place bets, then the app needs to confirm that you’re in a state where online sports betting is legal, like New Jersey.
But other apps, like the glasses maker Warby Parker don’t really need to know where you are … unless you always need to find the nearest Warby Parker store, which seems unlikely.